The Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017 came into effect on 19 May 2017, introducing significant changes to the Education Act 1989. Some commentators have described the changes as the most significant changes to New Zealand’s education system since the introduction of Tomorrows Schools.
Key changes that came into force on 19 May 2017 include:
Introduction of National Education and Learning Priorities
The Minister of Education now has authority to issue a statement of National Education and Learning Priorities (NELP) for the early childhood and compulsory education sectors. School Boards of Trustees must have particular regard to the NELP in their strategic planning.
The announced intention is for the first NELP to be issued in 2018. It will be interesting to see what range of priorities are included in the NELP.
Clarification of Role of Board of Trustees
The role and responsibilities of the Board of Trustees are now set out in detail in Schedule 6 of the Education Act 1989.
Previously, the objectives of the Board of Trustees were summarised in section 75. Prior to 2013, section 75 stated that, subject to the general law of New Zealand, a school’s board had ‘complete discretion to control the management of the school as it thinks fit’. In 2013, this section was amended to state that a school’s board ‘must perform its functions and exercise its powers in such a way as to ensure that every student at the school is able to attain his or her highest possible standard in educational achievement’.
Section 75 has now been completely replaced. The new section 75 does not relate to Boards of Trustees at all. It is now in a part of the Education Act that relates to communities of learning.
The key objectives of the Board of Trustees are now described in clause 5 of Schedule 6. The primary objective is still stated to be ‘to ensure that every student at the school is able to attain his or her highest possible standard in educational achievement’. The statement that the Board of Trustees ‘has complete discretion to control the management of the school as it thinks fit‘ has been removed.
Clause 5 of schedule 6 also sets out a list of things that the Board of Trustees must do to meet its primary objective. These are:
- ensure that the school—
- is a physically and emotionally safe place for all students and staff; and
- is inclusive of and caters for students with differing needs; and
- have particular regard to any statement of National Education and Learning Priorities issued under section 1A; and
- comply with its obligations under sections 60A (in relation to curriculum statements and national performance measures), 61 (in relation to teaching and learning programmes), and 62 (in relation to monitoring of student performance); and
- if the school is a member of a community of learning that has a community of learning agreement under section 72, comply with its obligations under that agreement as a member of that community; and
- comply with all of its other obligations under this or any other Act.
Increased Range of intervention options
The Minister and Secretary of Education now have an increased range of options for intervening in schools. New intervention options include case conferences, specialist audits, performance notices and statutory appointees (to Board of Trustees).
Clearer Framework for Communities of Learning (COLs)
The Act clarifies the process for approval of a Community of Learning and for entry into an agreement on the activities the COL will undertaking.
The Community of Learning concept was already in place prior to the passing of these amendments, but it is probably an improvement to have the COL framework clearly set out in the legislation.
Management of Enrolment Schemes
The Secretary of Education can now implement an enrolment scheme for a school if the school fails to put one in place within a reasonable time after being asked to do so.
Previously, the Ministry of Education could ask a school to implement an enrolment scheme, but did not have the authority to implement one itself for a school that was slow in responding.
New Purpose Provision for closure and merger of schools
Closure and merger of schools is nearly always a controversial issue, and is an area where the government is frequently criticised for failing to properly consult with the school community and take its concerns into account.
A new section 145AAA introduces objectives to guide decision making on establishment, closure and merger of schools. The objectives are to:
- enable the provision of a schooling network that assists parents to meet their obligations to enrol their children at school;
- assist the efficient and effective use of the Government’s investment in schooling; and
- recognise the role of diversity in the provision of schooling, including the provision of Māori-medium education.
Enabling the Minister to combine school boards of trustees in certain circumstances
Before these amendments were made, the Education Act already permitted multiple schools to have combined BoTs and one principal for multiple schools – section 110.
The Minister can now initiate the process to combine BoTs if the Minister has reasonable cause to believe that there are serious problems with the governance of 1 or more of the schools or institutions concerned; and those problems could be addressed by the combined board.
The Minister must first consult the Board of Trustees and Proprietor of the affected schools.
Updating the legislative framework for state integrated schools
One of the biggest changes in the Amendment Act relates to Integrated Schools.
The Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 has been repealed, with all relevant provisions being incorporated directly into the Education Act 1989 in a new part 33.
The Ministry of Education has said that the intention was not to change the substance of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act. The language has been modernised in places, but in substance the PSCI provisions are unchanged except that new provisions have been added:
- requiring proprietors to provide financial and other information to the Crown to improve decision-making when issues arise.
- introducing new criteria to guide decision-making by proprietors.
- creating a bespoke merger process for state-integrated schools.
Establishing a Competence Authority for teachers
The competence authority was initially created under the Education Council’s rules in 2016, but without specific recognition and powers under the Education Act. The role of the competence authority is now specifically recognised in the Act.
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